Ruminations on Micheaux’s BODY AND SOUL (1925) & Murnau’s FAUST (1926)

Ruminations on Micheaux’s BODY AND SOUL (1925) & Murnau’s FAUST (1926)

I find both of these films very odd, and both very daring and challenging for the times, but neither particularly satisfying.

Of the two Murnau’s FAUST is by far the better known, well… as well known as silent films get, with numerous re-masterings and expensive restorations done, and new scores routinely crafted for it, and volumes of critical analysis written, and the darling of film courses everywhere.

And while I’m a huge fan of F.W. Murnau’s SUNRISE (Sunrise along with Erich Von Stroheim’s GREED, and a handful of others, is considered, rightly I believe, one of the greatest silent films ever made); I’m not as enamored of his FAUST. The technical wizardry for the day was ground breaking, but FAUST, for me suffers a couple of flaws we’ll get into in a moment.

Because flaws aside FAUST has maintained a level of attention, accolades, and restoration to be envied, while Oscar Micheaux’s BODY AND SOUL, has pretty much become an invisible film. No restorations, no re-masterings, and fairly unseen and unknown.

Which is a shame because the two films make an interesting diptych on religion and carnality and the suffering of women; the almost crucifixion of women at the hands of a dismissive, patriarchal society. And they both offer intriguing performances by their respective female leads.

BODY AND SOUL, is one of the few surviving silent ‘RACE’ pictures (Pictures created by and for Black audiences and the thriving Black movie theater circuit that comprised 600 black owned theaters [as opposed to the half dozen in existence today], popular in the years from 1915 to 1928) and as such, is an intriguing and historically important part of both cinema and highlighting the cultural fabric and concerns of the day.

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